Looking for a hands-off, easy-care houseplant? It really doesn’t get much better than the classic pothos (Epipremnum aureum), a favorite in homes, malls and offices for as long as anyone can remember. This is my absolute go-to plant when I need something easy that can survive and even grow in spots that would be much too dark for the majority of houseplants.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about pothos care and how to grow this vining houseplant!
|Name(s) (common, scientific)||(Golden) pothos, devil’s ivy, money plant, Epipremnum aureum*|
|Lighting||Low to bright indirect|
|Water||When somewhat dry|
Pothos natural habitat & description
This popular houseplant is naturally found in French Polynesia, specifically on the island of Moorea. It’s an evergreen Aroid plant that grows in a vining manner: it roots in the ground but uses trees as support to climb to great heights.
In the houseplant hobby, pothos is usually grown as a hanging plant with small, heart-shaped leaves on vines that can grow very long. The wild form looks notably different, climbing upwards and producing huge leaves on thick stems. The species’ growth rate is moderate, although they slow down in low-light conditions.
Pothos was classified for a while as Epipremnum pinnatum, (although it had many other scientific names before that), but this was later discovered to be a different species. It’s easy to mix the two up, especially now that pinnatum is becoming more popular, but you can tell Epipremnum aureum apart from its more rounded leaves.
Did you know? Pothos is considered “shy-flowering”. Although it has the capacity to produce flowers that look like those of any other Aroid, it rarely does so, even in the wild.
Pothos is invasive
Because pothos grows so well in any type of tropical forest environment, it has unfortunately also become an invasive plant in many areas. According to authors Moodley, Proches & Wilson (2017), for example, Epipremnum aureum has thoroughly invaded forests in Sri Lanka, and is also present to a worrying degree in Hawaii and South Africa.
If you’re in the tropics and want to grow pothos in your garden, I urge you to make sure you keep your plants from “escaping”, for example by disposing properly of all clippings!
Did you know? The plant collected on Moorea somewhere in the 1800s was fully green. It seems likely that the ubiquitous golden variegated form (‘golden’ pothos) we all know and love popped up and was popularized in the 19th century as well. Dozens of additional cultivars have been developed since.Boyce, 2004
Pothos light, temperature & humidity
Pothos is often touted as a low-light or no-light houseplant. I’ll be the first to admit that golden pothos is definitely the species I go for if I’m looking to add some green to a spot that would be too dark for 99% of other houseplants. It somehow still manages to grow! Still, it’s important to keep in mind that there still needs to be some light, even if it’s from a window on the other side of the room.
Low light conditions are not ideal if you want your pothos to grow quickly and lush, and you have to keep in mind that it’s easy to overwater a plant that’s technically light-starved.
The lighter variegated cultivars like the popular ‘Marble Queen’ or ‘N’Joy’ will revert to green and lose much of their charm if they’re not kept close to a window, so that’s also something to keep in mind. ‘Jade’, which is fully green, is the best choice for lower light locations.
All in all, for the best results, place your pothos next to a window. It can handle quite a bit of light with proper acclimating, although if you see the leaves turning pale, that might be an indication you’ve given it a little too much direct sun.
The great thing about tropical houseplants like pothos is that they like more or less the same temperatures that we do. Room temp is great for your Epipremnum aureum, although it won’t mind significantly warmer either.
I’ve exposed my own pothos to temperatures as low as 14 °C/57 °F and it didn’t seem affected in the slightest. It’s probably a good idea to keep things above 10 °C/50 °F to prevent problems, though.
Many of our favorite houseplants come from very humid rainforest habitats, and pothos is no exception in that. The great thing about this species, though, is that it isn’t nearly as finicky about air moisture levels as some other tropicals.
For the best results, try placing your Epipremnum aureum in one of the more humid rooms in your home, like the bathroom (if it has a window). You can measure the humidity level using a cheap humidity meter. If things are really dry, you could consider running a humidifier or grouping houseplants together to create a mini jungle effect.
Pothos soil, potting & staking
When it comes to soil, pothos really isn’t very demanding. It prefers a rich but well-draining mixture and apparently appreciates a slightly acidic pH. This means that something like a blend of 75% potting soil and 25% perlite + peat moss is probably ideal.
This being said… I’ve also grown pothos in low-quality standard potting soil and it always did fine.
Pothos isn’t difficult about potting either as long as you use a planter with a drainage hole in the bottom to prevent root rot due to wet feet. Some houseplant enthusiasts prefer a hanging planter and letting their plant vine down, while others like a normal pot with a plant totem or stake (see the paragraph below).
It’s not a disaster if your Epipremnum aureum is a little snug in its pot. However, if you notice that the leaves are drooping, no matter how much you water, it may be time to repot. The plant may be overly root bound, causing it to dry out too quickly. This is often accompanied by roots sticking out of the drainage holes.
You can repot during the spring and summer growing months. Choose a planter that is one or two sizes larger than the previous one and use fresh soil.
To stake, or not to stake?
Isn’t that the million-dollar question?! Due to its vining nature, pothos is very versatile and can be grown in different ways. Your choice of planter and whether or not to stake actually influences the way your plant looks, so choose wisely!
Your basic options are:
- Let your pothos trail down. Vines can become very long, creating a beautiful waterfall effect, and the leaves stay small.
- Trail your pothos across a wall or other object. I’ve pinned my Epipremnum aureum’s vines horizontally to a rattan cabinet, for example. It really gives that ‘urban jungle’ feel.
- Use a stake or, even better, a plant totem. This allows your pothos to do what it naturally would, which is to climb. It results in leaves growing gradually bigger, giving the plant a completely different look.
Another great thing about pothos is that this species really doesn’t need constant watering. If you’re one of those houseplant enthusiasts who tends to overwater, be sure to really try to control yourself with your Epipremnum aureum!
I can’t tell you exactly when your plant needs water, as this depends entirely on the season and environment. It’s not too difficult to figure out by probing the soil, though. During the warm summer months, the soil can be kept lightly moist, although it’s usually also fine to let it dry out halfway or even more. In winter, when your plant likely isn’t actively growing, it really doesn’t need much water.
If the leaves start drooping and the soil is dry, you’ve waited too long. This can really take quite a while to happen, though, especially if you’re growing your pothos in a lower light location. I like to err on the side of underwatering with mine since it’s so easy to overwater a plant in a low-light spot, and I’ve gone more than a month without giving my pothos a drink.
Pothos propagation & pruning
With vining plants like this, propagation tends to be a breeze, and pothos is no exception. All you have to do in order to multiply your specimen is snip a vine wherever suits you.
All cuttings should have a node (brown bump on the stem). Including a few leaves is helpful to allow proper photosynthesis. No worries about the mother vine: it’ll just sprout again from a new growth point.
Pothos doesn’t usually need to be pruned, but you can absolutely do so if any vines have grown a bit scraggly. The clippings can be rooted in water or soil and potted up separately, or you can place them right back in the mother plant’s container to give her a fuller look on top.
Have a look at the full pothos propagation guide for more information.
Pothos aren’t heavy feeders, so they don’t need a lot of fertilizer to thrive. Still, a healthy pothos plant will appreciate an extra boost! You can use a general liquid houseplant fertilizer, diluted to half strength, once or twice a month during the growing season.
Stop using plant food if your Epipremnum aureum is unhealthy or not growing, and don’t feed during the winter season. The plant won’t have any use for the fertilizer and it can actually end up damaging the roots. This is referred to as fertilizer burn and will show up as brown spots on the leaves.
Types of Pothos
As mentioned earlier, endless pothos cultivars have popped up since the original golden variegated variety became fashionable. You can now find Epipremnum aureum in every shade of green and cream!
You can find a longer list of pothos cultivars in the article on types of pothos, but here are a few of the ones you’re most likely to stumble upon in your local garden center:
- Epipremnum aureum ‘Jade’ (jade pothos): fully green cultivar.
- Epipremnum aureum ‘Neon’ (neon pothos): lighter, yellow-green leaves. Quite an eye-catcher!
- Epipremnum aureum ‘N’Joy’ (n’joy pothos): small, papery leaves with green and cream splashes. Tends to stay small.
- Epipremnum aureum ‘Marble Queen’ (marble queen pothos): light green leaves with fine cream mottling.
Problems with Pothos
As you’ve probably concluded by now, pothos are known for being pretty hardy plants, making them a great choice for both beginners and more experienced houseplant enthusiasts.
This being said, it’s always possible to run into problems with your plant. I’ll start off by saying that the majority of issues with houseplants in general are a result of either too much water, too little light or both.
Here is a short summary of some common problems you might encounter:
- Pothos with yellow leaves: Likely overwatering. The roots are rotting, which is affecting the leaves. Uproot your plant and remove any affected parts. Replant into a more well-draining soil.
- Pothos with droopy leaves and the soil is dry: Your plant is thirsty! The leaves should perk up within a few hours after a good drink.
- Pothos with droopy leaves and the soil is moist: You may have overwatered and the plant is unable to take up water because the roots have rotted. You’ll have to uproot, remove affected parts and repot into well-draining soil.
- Pothos with brown leaves: Very vague symptom, as this can be caused by overwatering, underwatering, cold damage, sunburn and more.
- Pothos with brown leaf tips: This can be underwatering, low humidity levels or low-quality tap water affecting the plant. It can also be sunburn.
- Pothos with bugs: Yep, unfortunately it happens. Common suspects include mealybugs, spider mites and thrips. You can try homemade remedies or commercial insecticides.
Is Pothos toxic to cats and dogs?
As with many Aroid houseplants, this plant’s toxicity is often overstated. Yes, it’s considered toxic by the ASPCA. This is due to the sap containing insoluble calcium oxalate crystals, which are microscopically tiny but very sharp. They cause irritation, especially when they touch the mucous membranes.
Is your furry friend going to keel over if it takes a bite out of your pothos? Hardly. In fact, the burning sensation it causes usually stops them from ingesting more than a little bit. However, it is a good idea to check the mouth and throat for swelling and to offer plenty of water. Your pet may end up drooling and with a rash in the mouth and throat if it really got a good mouthful.
Go for non-toxic plants if you’re worried about incidents or keep your pothos tucked away in a higher-up spot. This is a good idea especially if you have cats, because those dangling vines can be irresistible and the plant plus its pot may be pulled from their spot by a playing feline.
If you have any more questions about Pothos care or if you’d like to share your own experiences with this amazingly versatile houseplant, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!
Hung, C. Y., Qiu, J., Sun, Y. H., Chen, J., Kittur, F. S., Henny, R. J., … & Xie, J. (2016). Gibberellin deficiency is responsible for shy-flowering nature of Epipremnum aureum. Scientific reports, 6(1), 1-11.